Film Review – The Intern
If movies were graded on well-meaning intent The Intern would Rate an A. People acting decently to one another, learning to respect each other, portraying male-female friendships in a non-sexual positive light, finding value in the wisdom of older people, and most of all championing the cause of a career minded woman are all espoused by this film. It is upbeat, pleasant, and not without charm. However, it is also saddled with a treacly score, slightly sitcom-ish direction, and a lack of weight that can make the audience feel less than moved.The Intern is a mixed bag.
Robert De Niro plays Ben, a retired widower who has done all of the travel and relaxing a retiree is supposed to do. He had a long career distributing phone books and misses the working life. So he answers a flyer ad for a hot internet company that is seeking senior citizen interns by making a sincere introductory video of himself. It charms the staff at the online fashion site and is in a group of a few other seniors and one slovenly younger intern. To set a good example for the program he is assigned to shadow Anne Hathaway’s Jules, the 30ish self-made creator of the company. This entrepreneur has basically created another Zulily. Her company is growing faster than her staff can keep up, so to calm her board of directors she is assigned the task of finding an actual CEO to take charge. The rub is, she loves her job, she loves being in charge, and she knows no one else will care as much as she. Also, initially she feels she has no time to guide around an older gentleman who is playing an Interning. Through polite determination he wears her down, they become good friends, and they end up helping each other.
There is no doubt this is a winning cast. Ben is the polar opposite of other famous De Niro creations like Travis Bickle or Rupert Pupkin. Those characters were famous for their inability to pick up on social cues. They were extremely awkward and made the film-goer nervous watching them. Here, on the other hand, he has quiet dignity, knows when he is welcome in a room, and probably most importantly knows when NOT to say something. He’s polite to a fault, observant, and even though he’s often the oldest one in the room, never talks down to anyone. It is refreshing to see a character of advanced years in a major Hollywood production who is shown as competent and decent.
Anne Hathaway is believable as Jules, a woman who genuinely cares about her company. And she seems to care not just because she’s making tons of money but because she genuinely cares about the product. It’s also great that her character isn’t forced into some ridiculous May-December romance with the titular Intern or that she’s obsessed with guy problems. Yes, her dealing with what is going on in her private family life is addressed. She has to cope with a looming problem regarding her stay at home husband played by Workaholics’s Anders Holm. She also has to balance her guilt at missing out on smaller milestones in her daughter’s life. But those strike the chord of choices that every working mother has to make.
There are some downsides to The Intern though. Most blatantly, Nancy Meyers directs this thing so obviously that it’s painful. It’s like she wants to make sure the slowest members of the audience can keep up. For instance, when Ben’s Intern group is given their initial tour of the office, it is so politely expository as to be the very definition of explanatory. It’s like they want to introduce the idea of online shopping and basic office politics to those who’ve never heard of the internet or desks. Early on Jules is repeatedly preoccupied with a messy table in the middle of the office. Ben earns points with her by cleaning it up. Okay, a sweet gesture. But the characters in the movie act like it’s a genuine miracle and make such a big deal out of it that it’s insane. Real people don’t act this way.
Also, since we are in Nancy Meyers world, we happen to be dealing with a whole cast of people with virtually no money problems. Of course this internet company is a monster success in it’s first year so Jules can afford a 2 story brownstone in Brooklyn. Ben has a walk-in closet with meticulously pressed suits and a carousel for his ties. There’s only one character in the office at all that is dealing with the issue of finding an apartment in New York and that’s only because his parents are kicking him out. And let’s not forget that this movie profiles a whole group of people that are happily working for free. It’s not that these lives never happen. It’s not that a positive portrayal of an office setting isn’t welcome. But also note that this movie is about older successful white guy helping young, pretty, successful white lady continue to lead a massively successful life. When does the movie version of African American Senior Citizen Walmart greeter who impresses struggling mid-level retail Manager come out?
The Intern is sweet. It’s good to see decent people acting decently to each other. And it’s really good see a movie that bestows the virtues of women being able to care about more than just pleasing men and raising kids. But it also doesn’t have much narrative drive so it tends to drag. It also can be seen as merely pleasant. Pleasant is good, just not always compelling.